Coming to a town near you—an art project for monarchs

Jenny Kendler, Milkweed Dispersal Balloons, Archival inkjet print, 2014
Jenny Kendler, Milkweed Dispersal Balloons, Archival inkjet print, 2014

Among all the many seed distribution strategies I’ve seen discussed or proposed, this one is both simple and beautiful. Jenny Kendler’s Milkweed Dispersal Balloons project consists of a mobile unit towing a flotilla of balloons filled with milkweed seed. As the artist says on her website:

The artist and a team of performers walk the specially designed cart through Midwestern cities, engaging with families and individuals, by passing out biodegradable balloons filled with floating cloud-like milkweed seeds. These transparent balloons are pinned to people’s shirts with buttons showing fragmentary close-ups of monarch wings, as the story of the interaction between milkweed and monarchs is told.

In slightly less than a decade, Jenny Kendler has become widely known as an artist/advocate for biodiversity. She’s currently the first artist-in-residence with the National Resources Defense Council, co-creator of the Endangered Species Print Project, and has exhibited her work internationally. Most of her projects—with names like Tell it to the Birds, Wild Blotters, and A Place of Light and Wind—are about reconnecting (mostly) urban-dwellers with the natural world. In one project description, she recalls the relationship kids have with nature—picking up worms, getting excited about dandelions, and just playing in the dirt. Lifelong gardeners are able to maintain that relationship (if not their love for dandelions), but for too many individuals—and corporations—with adulthood comes distance and, often, the need to subdue and conquer.

Milkweed Dispersal Balloons, Custom-printed buttons, 2014
Milkweed Dispersal Balloons, Custom-printed buttons, 2014

I like this attitude; in many ways, my garden is my attempt to maintain some kind of connection to the wild. So far, that hasn’t included the cultivation of asclepias syriaca, and it’s unlikely to. As much as I’d like to have a meadow situation with sun-loving pollinator-friendly plants, I haven’t the conditions for it, so I do what I can with pollinator-friendlies that are good in partial shade.

To be clear, this is an awareness-raising project. The problems underlying monarch endangerment aren’t going to be solved by seed balloons. But we need more than scientific reports and cautionary rants—we need the artists and all the other help we can get before the bats, bees, and butterflies get wiped out altogether.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Alas, I do not live in the Midwest, but I do live along the Monarch Migration Route along the CA coast.

  2. People really need to stop dumping more plastic into the environment. Planting seeds is a great idea but balloons are not. What do people think happens to them. They don’t decompose, they get eaten by wildlife or flushed into rivers or just remain in the soil pretty much forever.

  3. We need to ban all the systemic insecticides. Corporate greed is killing our wildlife.

  4. Well I have no doubt that the artist’s intentions are good…but I can’t help but squirm with discomfort over the distribution method. Pollinator Week is June 15-21. Plant something for the pollinators! ~Julie

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